West Virginia reports new COVID-19 outbreak at church

 At least 17 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at a church in Greenbrier County, W.Va.
At least 17 cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed at a church in Greenbrier County, W.Va. (WHSV)
Published: Jun. 15, 2020 at 11:22 AM EDT
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A coronavirus outbreak at a West Virginia church has caused at least 17 virus cases, prompting the governor to call in the National Guard for decontamination work, state officials said Saturday.

The Greenbrier County church has closed for 14 days, and health officials started contact tracing to try to contain the virus's spread, the Department of Health and Human Resources said.

It's the most recent of five confirmed COVID-19 outbreaks at churches in West Virginia, officials said.

“I want to strongly encourage all West Virginians, especially when in church settings, to follow the guidelines and use every other pew, maintain social distancing and please wear masks,” Gov. Jim Justice said in a release. “A lot of the attendance at our churches are those that are elderly and at higher risk, so we are cautioning everyone to strictly follow our guidelines. As I have said many times, we will have stormy seas before we get a vaccine, so it is imperative that we strictly follow the guidelines or the seas will only get rougher.”

Justice ordered the National Guard to go immediately to the site to begin decontamination, the state said. The guardsmen will be on site Sunday and Monday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

The governor also directed officials to host two additional free testing events in Greenbrier County.

“There are several key lessons to be learned from these outbreaks. Practicing good prevention measures do make a difference, such as wearing a mask, staying 6 feet apart and using good hygiene,” said Dr. Cathy Slemp, State Health Officer and Commissioner of DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health. “Out of state travel can be a risk and precautions should be taken upon return to West Virginia. Finally, please stay home from work or other community events if you are not feeling well.”

The other counties where coronavirus outbreaks have occurred in churches are Boone, Hampshire, Jefferson, and Marshall counties, state officials said. To protect the possibility of identifying people, they said, the churches will not be named by the health and human resources department.